Thoroughly modern mini

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Perhaps, on the surface, the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting is not that great a technological breakthrough. The 54 bhp fiddler is closest, in spirit, to the Mini Cooper, and the original one of those had 55 bhp. Back in 1961.

Mind you, the Fiat 500 you could buy 34 years ago had less than 29 bhp, so all things are relative.

So, in a straight contest, which would you choose?

The Cooper is still fun, still popular, still (amazingly) chic, but it is set back by archaic transmission and the sort of ride quality you normally only find when you’re running three worn dampers. The price: £7495.

The Fiat, by contrast, cossets its occupants against changes in road surface. The gearchange may be a little rubbery, in the Fiat family way, but it’s not bad, and there is no accompanying whine on the move.

One thing you can’t do with the Cinquecento is devote quite the same commitment to cornering as you can with the Cooper. It grips to a degree, but the roll-centre is a little high. Two-thirds of the way into a corner, it starts to feel a little ill-at-ease, a trifle top-heavy. A Cooper can be steered on the throttle, pretty much at will. The Fiat lacks that touch of agility. But it does cost around £1200 less than the design which preceded it by 30 years or so…

Price (it’s rated insurance group four, by the way, two lower than the Mini) and comfort aside, the Fiat has other assets in its favour. For its size, it is reasonably versatile. You can fit a surprising amount in the boot if you use squashy bags and a little imagination. Top quoted speed is 94 mph (a shade faster than the aerodynamically inferior Cooper), and it doesn’t so much as accelerate from 0-60 mph as get there eventually (13.0s, around 1.5s slower than a Cooper. All the same, in everyday terms it will still get from London-Manchester in around three hours, and return 40-plus mpg into the bargain. Even around town, Fiat anticipates a fuel return of around 38 mpg.

The wider wheels and spoilers enhance the Cinquecento’s squat proportions. In short, it looks the part. Its responsive throttle action and near-bicycle dimensions make it the perfect urban warrior, and its superior cruising gait possibly gives it an all-round edge over the Mini Cooper even if, ultimately, it doesn’t offer quite the same grin factor. S A

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